To watch a lunar eclipse, you have to be in the right place with a sky that’s clear, and it helps if you’re far away from the light pollution of city life. I was fortunate, then, to have all the right conditions early the morning of Nov. 8.
On vacation in a rented house, I wasn’t at all sure which direction the moon was. But then I found it—a bright circle of light visible through the front window. From a news story earlier in the day, I knew what was going to happen minute by minute.
Celestial phenomena must have seemed mysterious when there was no NASA to tell you these things. Long ago, the movement of the moon and the sun and the stars seemed mostly predictable, but then sometimes not. Unusual activity in the sky sometimes evoked fear.
But fear was not the response of the magi when they saw a dramatic star in the east. Brazilian poet and theologian Rubem Alves imagines what they felt and what compelled them to travel so far.
In his story, found in Transparencies of Eternity, these magi are kings who rule with kindness and wisdom, with their lands and people prospering. All was well, so they should have been content. But each was filled with a desperate sadness, longing for something more.
Then one by one, recounts Alves, each from his own land saw a magnificent star in the sky. As each king gazed in wonder, he heard beautiful music and was filled with happiness. But the royal advisors could not see the star nor hear the music. In these three kingdoms, the ruler was thought to be senile and nearing death.
Undeterred, each of the kings set out from north, west, and south to follow the star in the east. After many days, they happened to encounter one another at the crossroads where the four directions of the world meet, and there they learned that these other travelers were also seeking the star. Said Alves: “They all came from the same nostalgia, and they all came in search of the same joy.”
Finally, the magi arrived at the stable in Bethlehem. There they discovered that it was not the star that was giving light. Rather, it was the baby who gave light to the star. Overwhelmed with joy and laughter, the kings placed their robes and riches on the ground. “Those things were too heavy,” said Alves.
And then, when the kings went on their way, “they departed light.”
Wendy McFadden is publisher of Brethren Press and Communications for the Church of the Brethren.